June 22, 2015

Going the Extra (15,857) Miles

Simon Youth Foundation’s tag line is, “Start here. Go anywhere.” For the spring graduation season, SYF staff took that to heart and started in Indianapolis and went almost everywhere.

The Simon Youth Foundation team traveled a cumulative 15,857 miles attending graduation ceremonies at Simon Youth Academies. Within the span of 5 weeks, SYF staff traveled to 18 academy graduation ceremonies at 15 different locations.

Simon Youth Foundation partnership districts graduated a total of 910 students for the spring semester 2015 year from our 22 academies. For the 2015 year, SYF awarded 300 scholarships in 38 states and Puerto Rico totaling $1,232,700. An interactive map of our travels can be found below.

Michael Durnil, President at Simon Youth Foundation, traveled to a portion of the academy graduations where he delivered greetings from SYF to the graduates of our Simon Youth Academies. The text of his speech follows.

It is my great honor to represent Simon Youth Foundation to share in this celebration with you!

As I was thinking about this graduation season, a saying popped into my head: “You don’t always get what you wish for, you get what you work for.”

I thought about this the other day as I was walking through a Simon mall and came across our Simon Youth Foundation wishing well.

If you spend a lot of time in the mall, you know what I’m talking about. Every Simon mall across the country has a “wishing well” for spare change.

People come by – usually little kids, but I’ve seen you adults who race the coins around the drain and think no one is watching – they close their eyes, make a wish, and drop in their coin.

Did anyone here used to be a little kid? OK…a few of you. So you know what kinds of things little kids wish for: fame and fortune, to be able to fly, super powers. I used to wish my sister would get sold into the circus.

Regardless of what your wish was, needless to say the wishes of little children do not usually come true.

Why is that? First, because they aren’t realistic. Second, because most people don’t actually try to make these wishes happen.

While I never really worked at selling my sister into the circus, I’m not sure they would have even taken her even if I did.

We don’t get the things we wish for. We get the things we work for.

But on days like today, the thing we wish for and the thing we work for intersect, and to me, and all of us at SYF – that is what is inspirational. 

I have been fortunate enough to meet hundreds of SYF students over the years, and almost everyone started out wishing:

Wishing that there was a school where they fit in.
Wishing that there were teachers looking out for them.
Wishing that they could just graduate and get a job that pays more than minimum wage.
Wishing that they could somehow find a way to get to college.
Wishing for something better.

If these were only wishes none of us would be here today. Instead, you showed up. You worked hard. You studied.  You made this happen. Of course, you didn’t do it alone.

I’m sure each one of you can think back and find one inspirational person – maybe several inspirational people – who believed in you and help you get to this day.

Maybe it was a parent or grandparent who supported you, encouraged you to continue your education, and worked long hours to provide for your family.

Or maybe it was one of your Academy colleagues who believed in you, challenged you, and pushed you to do your best.

Now, as a graduate, you have a role in helping out the next group of Simon Youth Academy students.
Across the country, we have 22 Academies like this, and there are more than 13,000 Simon Youth Academy graduates across the country.

Today, you are joining that alumni group and you have the opportunity to be an inspirational figure for someone who comes behind you.

So I encourage you to stay connected with us and tell us about your success. You can find us online (and for those of you who posted your Class of 2015 selfie, you may have already found us).
Or you can walk back through your classroom doors and reconnect with your teachers. I’m sure they’ll love it.

And whenever you’re back in the mall, I hope you find the SYF wishing well. You’ll never be too old to stop, take a coin from your pocket, and make a wish. 

Before I end my comments today, I want to ask you to do one more thing for me.

Close your eyes.

Now, instead of making a wish – take in this moment – this is what it feels like when a wish comes true.

On behalf of the Simon Youth Foundation Board of Directors, I offer my sincere congratulations to you, the graduating class of 2015!

View photos from those events on our flickr page . If you have your own photos, be sure to upload them to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with the hashtag #SYF2015.

June 16, 2015

Coast High School Participates in 2015 Solar Cup Race

California is in the middle of a drought, but students at Simon Youth Coast High School Academy helped raise awareness and test their engineering skills last month by racing solar-powered boats.

Coast High School was one of the 41 high schools to participate in the nation's largest solar-powered boat competition, the Solar Cup. Despite being one of 9 first-time participating schools, Coast took home the Bart Bezyack Memorial Spirit of Solar Cup Trophy Teamwork Award.

Solar Cup is a seven-month school program where students build and race 16-foot, single-seat boats powered using only solar energy. The team-based competition allows students to use their skills in math, physics, engineering and technology. Throughout the program, students are able to learn about water resources, alternative energy resources and electrical and mechanical engineering. The Solar Cup features a 1 kilometer endurance race and a 200 meter sprint race that teams compete in.

As part of the program, students must create a public service message lasting 30-60 seconds and incorporate this years theme of "Don't Waste Another Minute Wasting Water". Coast High School received the highest score for their public service message with a perfect score of 250. Teams were scored based on their creativity, originality and message effectiveness, among other categories.

The three-day annual event began on May 16th at Lake Skinner in Temecula Valley, California. Participating teams come from six counties in the metropolitan area.

Congratulations, Coast High School!

Simon Youth Coast High School Academy is located in Huntington Beach, California and is in partnership with Huntington Beach Union High School District.  

June 9, 2015

Principal: Happiness is a direction, not a place

In his 2015 commencement speech, Jack Ham, Principal of Simon Youth Academy at Port Charlotte Town Center in Florida, asks students to do more than pursue their goals and dreams, but to pursue happiness. The text of his remarks is below.

Before I go into my speech I need to thank many valuable people. I would like to first thank The Academy students, staff, district leaders, and family members for making my first year as principal so magical.

Now, to the graduates. Congratulations graduates for completing a major milestone in your life that no one can ever take away from you. YOU earned your diploma and you deserve it! Graduating from high school is a rite of passage, a stepping stone into the adult life.

So, what’s next? College, Charlotte Technical Center, Military, or the workforce? I hope it’s one of those four options and not the fifth option which is living in your parent’s house until your 40 eating cereal, playing video games, and getting lost in social media.

I don’t want to put pressure on you, because you will find your way, and it will take some time. You will go through several life transitions, different jobs, and possibly various careers before you finally find your true calling.

The key is that you must be persistent and determined to be successful. Whatever you may choose, I wish you all the success possible. Always remember that you have a caring and loving staff at The Academy who will be there if you need support, guidance, or just hug.

My advice to you is short, sweet, and to the point: Pursue your happiness.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? When asked what one wants out of life, most respond with the statement, “I just want to be happy.” Easier said than done.

What is happiness? Many would say that having plenty of money, achieving social status, or owning many materialistic items will bring them happiness. Deep down all of us know this is found not be true.

This is evident when my wife makes me painstakingly watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians. They seem to have money, status, and the finest things money can buy, but are they happy? No, they are a train wreck.

This show and many others give young Americans a false perception of what happiness truly means. The happiness that I am discussing is long term. The happiness that will get you through your most trying times.

I personally cannot tell exactly what will bring you happiness. What I can say is that your achievement of receiving a high school diploma today brings everyone in here happiness.  

I can tell you that waking up each day to go to a job that you love will bring you happiness. I can tell you that the day you find your true love and best friend will bring you happiness. I can tell you the day you’re watching your favorite sports team win a championship will bring you happiness (Go Irish).

How about when you are driving in heavy traffic and make every green light? Sweet. What a great sense of happiness when you are the one who found the last three cookies in the cookie jar.

What am I getting at? I am referring to the simple things in life that make us happy. Keep life simple. Surround yourself with others who are in the pursuit of true happiness and you will find it.

Don’t mistake me, it will not be an easy journey. What eases my concerns is that through your choice of attending The Academy and finishing gives me a great indication that you will fight until you find your happiness.

Sydney Harris said, “Happiness is a direction, not a place.”

Are you headed in the right direction?

You are a great class. I wish you all the best!

I love you guys!

May 4, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week: SYF Teacher Receives Emmy

There’s a lot to be gained from work on Astronomy: a knowledge of the space, a greater understanding of our place in the universe, and…an Emmy?

That’s what happened to Dennis Tabor, the Science Chair at Wichita Public Schools and a teacher at Simon Youth Academy at Towne West Square. According to a recent report from Cowley College, where Tabor serves as an adjunct professor, Tabor served as a subject matter expert for the series “Astronomy: Observations & Theories”.

"I collaborated with a team of subject matter experts to update the video series and the supplemental materials,” Tabor said. “At one point, I had the brief pleasure of discussing house renovations with one of the actors in the series, Neil deGrasse Tyson. My main job was to revise and edit script and video treatments for specific programs in the series."
A year later, Tabor received a phone call that the video series had won an Emmy Award in the “Best Instructional Programming” category.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and we would like to thank the faculty and staff at the 22 Simon Youth Academies across the country. Every day, these public school teachers are doing amazing things with at-risk students. That work will never be forgotten. But these world-class teachers are also making a significant impact outside of the classroom. Tabor’s Emmy is a perfect example of that.

The only drawback seems to be that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is slow. The series was chosen in 2006, but Tabor’s Emmy just arrived this year.

From an astrologist’s perspective, nine years is just a blink of an eye.

April 24, 2015

ABCs of Simon Youth Foundation

This post was written by Eric Chamberlain, who will serve his last day as SYF's Major Gifts Officer at the end of April.
In my time with SYF, it’s been my privilege to work each day to support education opportunities for young people in communities all across the country. But it’s an even greater privilege to work alongside the many caring individuals who make our work possible. I thought it would be fitting (and a little bit fun) to write an ABCs-themed post in praise of just some of the supporters and educators who have made 12,000 graduates and $12 million in scholarships possible.
B is for Bill, Billy, and Mr. Brown, the three school leaders at our Academies in Nashville, Tenn.
C is for Courtney a teacher in Seattle, Wash.
D is for Dee Dee, the mall manager, and Dennis, an Academy administrator, in Westminster, Calif.
E is for the employees of Simon Property Group, #poweroforange.
F is for Fifth Third Bank, a long-time supporter who recently donated financial literacy curriculum to each of our Academies.
G is for golf and all of the sponsors of Tees for Education.
H is for Hamilton Southeastern Schools, SYF’s most recent school partner.
I is for Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, an event partner and supporter in Indianapolis. By the way, you should sign up.
J is for Jack, the leader of our Academy in Port Charlotte, Fla.
K is for Kay, an Academy teacher in Nashville.
L is for Lena, an SYF Board member from CVS in Detroit.
M is for Masquerade, SYF’s premier gala in October this year honoring Jim Morris.
N is for Nashville Predators Foundation, a foundation supporter in Nashville.
O is for Orlando Premium Outlets, one of two Premium Outlet malls that host an Academy.
P is for PNC Bank in Indianapolis.
Q is for quality education in Simon Youth Academies.
R is for Ryman Hospitality Properties Foundation, a foundation supporter in Nashville.
S is for SMS Holdings and Service Management Services.
T is for The Travelers Companies.
U is for US Security Associates, a corporate supporter in Roswell, Ga.
V is for the volunteers who help us partner with The Color Run Indianapolis.
W is for Mrs. Wyatt, lead principal for our three Academies in Wichita, Kan.
X is for Experts in Residence.
Y is for YOU if you’re reading this.
Z is for Mr. Zobel, an administrator in Whiteland, Ind.
THANKS for all you do for SYF!

March 12, 2015

To Be Good, Do Good

SYF Board member Sandra Cath with her husband, David Contis,
President, Simon Malls.
David Contis is not an easy man to pin down.

Contis, President, Simon Malls, has been the Executive Chair of Simon Youth Foundation's annual Employee Contribution Campaign for the last four years. In that time, employee donations to SYF have nearly doubled, this year topping $528,000.

A few months ago, we set out to thank David with a small token of appreciation: a framed saying that his mother has always reminded him. "Do good to be good."

It took us months to find the right time to formally present David with the gift. It took SYF Board member Sandra Cath, David's wife, to convince him to attend a reception for our new board members.We used that opportunity to present him with a special gift capturing a special quote in his life.

This small ceremony wrapped up a month of appreciation for us at SYF. Earlier in the month, hundreds of Simon employees from around the country came to Indianapolis for the Simon Annual Meeting.

SYF always looks forward to these company-wide meetings, as it gives us an opportunity to thank individual employees from all Simon properties for the things they do every day to help change students' lives.

For us, the biggest opportunity to thank the employees came at the SYF Appreciation luncheon. We turned the Grand Ballroom at the JW Marriott hotel orange, and told those in attendance how much their commitment of time, energy, and money, how they are making a difference.
SYF Appreciation Luncheon guests had thank you notes
signed by Academy students at their tables.

This year, Simon malls -- through events, wishing wells, collecting donations at Guest Services, and more -- contributed more than $2 million to the Simon Youth Foundation, allowing us to continue reaching at-risk youth at our 22 Simon Youth Academies and through our Simon Youth Scholarship program.

Search the hashtag #THANKYOUSIMON on Facebook and Twitter to see some of the amazing ways Simon employees helped this year, and see more photos of their contributions by visiting our #THANKYOUSIMON flickr page.

February 10, 2015

Experts In Residence play a vital mentorship role at Simon Youth Academies

Contributed by Kevin Cutrer, Office Administrator, Copley Place

Whenever SYF comes up in conversation, Milt Burnett’s enthusiasm takes over.

Milt is the former superintendent of schools in Peabody, Massachusetts, and currently an Expert in Residence consulting with Simon Youth Academies across the United States. The Expert in Residence (EIR) program was designed as a support mechanism for Academy administrators. Milt and the other EIR’s meet a variety of needs, alternately giving advice and encouragement while helping administrators forge relationships with school boards, advisory councils, Simon management, mall retailers, parents, and students.

“Sometimes,” Milt says, “Academy administrators simply need someone to talk to.”

One of the most important issues EIRs and administrators discuss is maintaining the regular attendance of students who are on the verge of dropping out of school. These students, who may have felt neglected or forgotten in prior educational environments, must be assured that the academy is an inviting place.

“The kids who come to Simon Academies thrive in a small environment,” Milt explains. “They are not lost.”

The small classrooms of Simon Academies (which serve no more than 50 students) make them an ideal place for these students who have fallen behind in more densely packed classrooms.

Milt’s involvement with SYF began while he was still the superintendent of schools in Peabody. Peabody is a small city north of Boston with a population just above 51,000. One year, 74 students dropped out of high school, the highest rate the city had ever seen.

“That’s a lot,” Milt said, “and it’s certainly a lot for a school system like Peabody’s.”

At the time, Milt recalled an SYF presentation he had attended at the invitation of Mark Whiting, general manager of Northshore Mall in Peabody and a member of the Peabody Education Council. Milt admits that his initial reaction to the presentation was skepticism.

“They were talking about building classrooms in the mall,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!’”

Now faced with the growing drop-out problem, Milt began to reconsider SYF. He visited the Simon Youth Academy at Granite Run Mall in Philadelphia, where he had the opportunity to speak with some of the students. One 16-year-old student said that, without the Simon Academy, she would have dropped out of school. Milt was convinced that a Simon Academy was just the thing that Peabody needed. On the flight home, he and Mark Whiting sketched out how they would bring one to their school district.

“As of last year, they have graduated fifty-two students,” Milt said, with a note of pride in his voice. “That’s fifty-two young people who were on the verge of dropping out of high school who now have high school diplomas.”

Since his retirement, Milt has remained active in SYF through his role as an EIR. He regularly attends Simon Youth Foundation’s annual regional conferences. The Academies, Milt says, is a key component of these gatherings. EIRs lead discussion groups on a wide range of topics, sharing experience and ideas for better serving students. Administrators return from these meetings with new ideas to implement in their classrooms, and perhaps more importantly, a feeling of support and community that EIRs like Milt help to reinforce throughout the year.

January 13, 2015

Two Weeks In: How's Your Resolution Coming?

We went down to the gym at Simon corporate headquarters today to get an unscientific feel for how things are going for New Year’s Resolutions.

The scene was desolate compared to Monday, January 5, but not altogether surprising. A recent study showed that almost 30 percent of resolvers have failed to keep their pledge just two weeks into a New Year. Less than half are still plugging away after six months.

So individuals – who may have vowed to shed a few pounds, stop smoking, or find love – have the odds stacked against them. Most people just can't overcome the hurdle of fulfilling a resolution. But what happens when you ask some folks who are used to being the underdog?

The school leaders at Simon Youth Academies are facing long odds every day. They are working to motivate hundreds of young people with extraordinary circumstances towards a high school diploma, and they do so with a 90 percent success rate. We asked several of them what their resolutions were for their school, and here’s a sample of what we heard:

My goal is to have more community involvement for 2015. I am bringing in a group of mentors for this semester. Go Colts.
Bill Warren, Simon Youth Academy at Old Cockrill (Nashville, TN)

Rose Tree Media Simon Youth Academy's resolution for 2015 is to increase student participation in dual enrollment with Delaware County Community College.
Joe Fuhr, Simon Youth Rose Tree Media Academy (Media, PA)

Improve Students and Staff Attendance
Update & Improve Curriculum and State Level Testing
Have patience
Monitor Student Progress Weekly
Motivate and Engage Disengaged Students across Content Areas.  
Cynthia Bosie-Colbert, Simon Youth Judson Learning Academy (San Antonio, TX)

Implement the Dave Ramsey financial literacy curriculum given to us by 5/3 Bank.
Get at least 50% of our graduates to apply for an SYF scholarship.
That should keep us busy.
Steve Curiel, Simon Youth Coast High School Academy (Westminster, CA)

November 14, 2014

In celebration of Elaine A. Fahrner - SYF advocate, champion, friend

Contributed by J. Michael Durnil, Ph.D., President and CEO, Simon Youth Foundation

“Elaine Passed” 

The text was simple, yet overwhelming.  These two words were not the way I wanted to start my day, but had I allowed the message to interrupt work at SYF, Elaine would have been disappointed.  So I tied my orange bow tie, and I did my best to shake off the sting of this sad news.  

On November 11, 2014, Simon Youth Foundation lost a great friend, advocate and champion. Elaine A. Fahrner served until 2013 as Principal at the Academy at Old Cockrill in Nashville, Tennessee.  In addition to transforming the lives of thousands of her own students, she was instrumental in creating a strong relationship between Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and SYF that is helping thousands more students.

Our SYF success story is still being written in Nashville and in many other communities today because of Elaine; she made it so that you couldn’t say “no” to her.

I remember vividly our first meeting. I was wearing my characteristic bow tie on that day too, and saddle shoes. Upon being introduced to each other, Elaine gave me a skeptical once over and pronounced in her most dignified, genteel southern accent, “You aren’t from around here are you?”  I laugh now, because, I think, she was not posing a question as much as she was offering a statement.

That’s what I loved most about Elaine. She was a keen observer of human behavior and the quintessential personification of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” In her case, a big stick was a heart as big as all get out and the desire to help every student she met, whether the student would admit to needing help or not. You see, Elaine was one of those “old school” teachers. She loved teaching because she believed in the transformative power of education and the basic principle that all students can and should learn.

I always enjoyed going to Nashville to see Elaine in action at her Academy. On more than one occasion, I was privileged to witness and participate in the graduation tradition hosted gleefully by Elaine.  The moment a student earned enough credits to graduate, activity in the halls of Old Cockrill would stop, and students would line up against the corridor walls. 

Elaine would take her place, commanding attention with her charm - and often an air horn - and she would introduce with great fanfare and the newest graduate of The Academy. I loved that the other students would erupt as if they were at a Friday night football game, and all eyes would fall on the graduate as they made their celebratory stroll into the open arms of Elaine and other teachers. As the graduate would strut or sashay down the hall, Elaine’s face would light up with pride and sincere happiness. I always thought, “I hope these students know how lucky they are to have a Principal like her!”

Elaine had an encyclopedic knowledge of each of her students. She knew their aspirations as well as the daily challenges they faced. As we’d walk the halls, she would carry on conversations with each of the students, making sure they knew that she knew. 

I was in awe.

Elaine taught me many things, from the meaning of “meat and three” (a Nashville restaurant that serves meat with three side dishes) to being fearless in support of her students.

Christa McAuliffe is famous for many reasons, but her words are what resonate the most with me. She said, “I touch the future. I teach.”  Truer words could not be spoken about Elaine.  She touched so many lives, including the teachers, students and colleagues she engaged on her path.

We are all better for knowing Elaine, and now we have the opportunity to carry forward her legacy.  I am grateful to her for trusting all of us with it.

All I can say is now is that St. Peter better have an air horn waiting. It’s Elaine’s graduation day, and she set a high standard.

Elaine’s obituary from her family, follows:

Elaine A. Fahrner, devoted friend, partner, sister, and educator-extraordinaire lost her battle with cancer on November 11, 2014.  Elaine was 65 years young.  She was, as always, surrounded by friends who loved her dearly. 

Elaine was born August 2, 1949 in Rushville, Indiana to her proud parents, Charles and Evaleah, who preceded her in death.  It was soon apparent that Elaine was too big for that small town and she left for Ball State after graduation – a band geek with a big future.   She knew she could change the world by helping children believe in their potential, so she became a teacher. 

She taught in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska - which was quite a feat for someone who hated to fly - then settled in Nashville at Glendale Middle School.  Many grateful children remember her classroom as a fun and creative place to learn.  Elaine was often hailed in grocery stores and restaurants around Nashville - “Ms. Fahrner!” – and she would look into their faces and see their 10 year old selves.  She would search her memory and recall their names and their smiles, and she would congratulate them on who they had become.  Once they walked away, she sometimes said “that kid was a mess!”  She obviously fixed them all.  

Elaine went on to teach at East Literature and Martha Vaught Middle School, where she eventually became principal.   Metro schools then made a decision that would impact the dreams and ambitions of hundreds of Nashville students when they gave Elaine the opportunity to fulfill her own dream of opening a non-traditional high school for Nashville students.  The Academy at Old Cockrill has been creating second chances for at-risk kids since 2009 by offering inspired, and inspiring, alternative curriculum to students who have not otherwise been able to earn a diploma.  Elaine had found her place – and in doing so, she helped so many others find theirs.  She gathered together other educators who believed in her vision, and together they changed our world by guiding their students in reaching their potential.  Ask anyone who went to Old Cockrill about Ms. Fahrner and they will tell you that she believed in them – every single one.

When she wasn’t changing lives at work, she was changing her golf score. We don’t want to say that she shaved strokes – that would be a lie – but she did win a lot.  She loved golf because it was a challenge, but mostly because she got to spend time with friends and have beverages delivered right to her cart.  For 10 years, she and her dear friend Suzanne Bradford hosted the Fahrford golf tournament - a coveted, invitation-only, best-ball scramble.  An invitation to the Fahrford signaled your arrival – not necessarily to the golfing elite, but to the elite world of special friends and extraordinary fun. 

Elaine is survived by her partner/spouse  Cindy Dempsey, sister Juli and her partner Tammy Hope and their daughter Kati, brother Greg and his wife Becky and their daughter Aimee Jo, her in-laws Jean and Ben Dempsey, Cheryl Dempsey, Ben and Sarah Dempsey and their daughters Elizabeth (Luke) and Paige.  

Elaine’s natural story-telling ability was well-known, with a delivery that was deliberate, embellished and perfectly timed.  She loved her mother’s deviled eggs made with candied dill pickles.   She loved her friends – relationships maintained over many years and in numbers too many to mention (but you know who you are).  Elaine never failed to mesmerize a crowd – we were all captivated students to her knowledge and wit.  She leaves a hole as big as her personality and as deep as her loyalty. She will be missed beyond words.  

Near the end, Elaine said this: “I lived a life with no regrets.  I was able to start the school of my dreams and I married the love of my life”.  What more could you ask?

October 9, 2014

Bullying is preventable. Learn how you can help stop it before it starts.

We’ve all been there.  Or we've witnessed it.  Or we’ve seen the damage and the hurt. ​Maybe, just maybe, we were the ones who were doing it.  We were the ones being the bully.  Or watching someone getting bullied, and we laughed or we did nothing.

​Depicted on television and in movies for years, a part of our literature for centuries, and an unfortunate corollary to the Information Age, bullying (and cyber-bullying) have entered the forefront of the public consciousness as behavior that is no longer either cool or acceptable.

​October is Bullying Awareness Month.  We at Simon Youth Foundation encounter the effects of bullying in our Academies every day.  Many of our students come to our schools because they have been bullied to the point of wanting to drop out. And we all know the average economic and career prospects of a high school dropout in 21st-century America.

​Cyber bullying is particularly harsh due to its very nature—the threat and the consequences are there every hour of every day.  A note passed in class is one thing, but the same words written on Facebook or other avenues of social media carry a sting that is nearly impossible to escape.

​Simon Youth Foundation embraces our role in serving students who have been bullied and helping them chart a course that rebuilds their self-respect, emphasizes consideration for others, and creates a new path to Graduation Day. ​It is our mission to provide these students with opportunities to succeed, and it is our responsibility to deliver and reinforce the message that bullying and cyber bullying are unacceptable in any environment.

Bullying is, without question, a circumstance that leads many students to Simon Youth Academies. And it is a circumstance that is largely preventable by a concerted effort from fellow students, friends, adults and mentors in these students' lives. Learn more about bullying, cyber bullying, and how to stop it before it starts. Visit http://www.stopbullying.gov to read about the effects of bullying on kids and their educational opportunities. 

October 3, 2014

The ribbons are cut at two new Simon Youth Academies!

Within the span of two weeks, Simon Youth Foundation opened two new Simon Youth Academy spaces – one in Orlando, FL and one in Westminster, CA.  Both Academy spaces will expand the capacity of existing successful programs.  Both offer at-risk students a welcoming, state-of-the-art alternative high school setting.  Both demonstrate the power of partnerships . . . and the Power of Orange.

In Orlando, SYF has partnered since 2001 with Orange County Public Schools and Simon Malls to operate a successful dropout prevention and recovery program.  When the program outgrew its former site, Outlet Marketplace on International Drive stepped in to help create Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace.  As the first student walked through the door for the first day of school on September 25, 2014, he exclaimed to his classmates, “Wow!  This is the best school ever. Can you believe this is ours?”

In Westminster, CA, SYF has partnered with Huntington Beach Union High School District and Westminster Mall to operate a successful dropout prevention and recovery program since 2003. The new Simon Youth Academy at Westminster Mall will expand capacity to serve students at the mall, and now through an affiliated second site, Simon Youth Coast High School Academy.

Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace, Simon Youth Academy at Westminster Mall and Simon Youth Coast High School Academy will be among 22 Simon Youth Academies nationwide that exist to help at-risk students stay in school. To-date, SYF has graduated more than 12,000 students, awarded more than $12 million in scholarships and maintained a 90% cumulative graduation rate across all Academies.

In Orlando, the existing program has served more than 650 students, and Simon Malls in the Orlando area have awarded $234,000 to local college-bound high school students.  In Westminster, the existing program has served more than 600 students, and Simon Malls in the Orange County, CA area have awarded $98,000 to local college-bound high school students.  

September 26, 2014

Join in recognizing our graduates on American Graduate Day

At Simon Youth Foundation, we believe graduation day is an amazing stop on life's journey. No matter how you got there, the challenges you faced, or the obstacles you overcame, the day you graduated from high school is one that you will never forget.

American Graduate Day is Saturday, September 27th, and we're marking this national conversation about education by celebrating the achievements of our Simon Youth Academy graduates.  We will join the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, WFYI, and AmericanGraduate.org in touting not only the importance of the day, but also brag a little bit about the achievements of our students.

We are enormously proud of our graduates, and we salute them, their families, their teachers, and their mentors on the collective work it took to reach this day.  SYF remains committed to working with our partners to ensure that our students attain this goal.  Anyone familiar with our work knows that we fight every day to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth and help them develop the life skills and devotion necessary not only to graduate from high school, but to succeed beyond that.

Please listen to your local public broadcasting station for stories about students achieving the goal of becoming a high school graduate.  Listen to their stories as they recount their journeys and make it clear that the best is yet to come.

In Indianapolis, tune into WFYI at 4:24 p.m. on Saturday, September 27, 2024 to learn more about SYF.  Follow @wfyi and @simon_youth on Twitter, and use #AmGradIndy to join in the conversation and celebrate our graduates!

September 17, 2014

Celebrate Constitution Day by Supporting Civic Literacy

September 17th is Constitution Day in the United States.  Since it’s not a national holiday in the outdoor BBQ sense, it will probably not be on anyone’s radar.

And that’s a shame.

In all of recorded history, are there any documents that rise above the U.S. Constitution in its impact on human freedom?  Perhaps a few…but in the family photo of such things, our Constitution is in the first row, front and center.

Civic literacy is something we associate with the social studies curriculum in primary and secondary school.  Based on statistics gleaned from just about every poll and survey in the public domain, civics—government, history, etc.—is something perhaps learned, but quickly forgotten.

According to the Civic Mission of Schools web site (http://www.civicmissionofschools.org), the numbers reflecting the adult population’s understanding of basic American civics is less a report and more of an indictment. One-third of Americans could name all three branches of the federal government; one-third couldn't name any. Only 47 percent of Americans know that a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court carries the same weight as a 9-0 decision.

Not yet worried about the future of our democracy?  In mid-term elections (when

the presidency is not on the ballot), turnout has not broken 50 percent for the past 16 cycles.

What is the foundation of this apathy?  Is it the polarization of our political discourse in general?  The busy lives of people as they go about their daily business?  The weather?  All or none of the above?

Or, sadly, is it weakness in civic literacy education? A sense of civic responsibility is best planted when our children are surrounded by smart teachers who inculcate the benefits of knowing how our system of government works, how it was constructed, and why men and women have fought and died to preserve it.

The Simon Youth Foundation is dedicated to working with our schools and ancillary organizations to raise the level of civic awareness among our students.  Through an increased understanding and enthusiasm about the role of citizens in government, we hope to make civic literacy a point of pride.

Our nation is passing through one of its greatest periods of trial in our 238-year history.  We need everyone—regardless of income or education level—to pay attention to the currents of democracy.

While rising to the occasion has always been a hallmark of the American people, we cannot rely on this phenomenon as a means of addressing the critical problems of our country and its future.  The civic responsibility inherent in the freedoms we all enjoy demands a literacy rate far above our current standards.

For more on Constitution Day, please visit http://www.constitutionday.com. For more information about civic literacy, including access to national resources and research, please visit http://civicliteracy.iupui.edu. 

September 10, 2014

Wishing Continued “Soxcess” for 2014 SYF Scholarship Recipient, Jeremy Garriga

Contributed by Jen Pittman, Vice President of Programs at Simon Youth Foundation

As a parent, I work hard every day to make my children happy and put them in a position to succeed.  I give them all the love I can, provide them with support and encouragement, and tell them that their hard work will be recognized and rewarded. 

I like to think all these wonderful truths and feelings will be enough; but I know, sometimes, that it takes a little extra to make dreams come true and hope a reality.

Through the Simon Youth Community Scholarship Program, SYF strives to be the “little extra” that students, parents, and schools need to meet their goals and secure a brighter future.  Frequently, we are lucky enough to get affirmation of our mission through a note from a student or parent.

Just such a note came to us this summer from Jeremy Garriga.  Jeremy lives in New Jersey and recently received a Simon Youth Community Scholarship from Newport Centre to attend college this fall.

Jeremy Garriga, Scholarship Recipient
Jeremy is more than just a young man headed to Seton Hall University to major in pre-med with a goal of being a neurosurgeon and medical researcher.  He is also a young entrepreneur, volunteer and philanthropist.

While still in high school, Jeremy founded Soxcess – an initiative dedicated to providing new socks and other basic necessities to those in need.  In three years, Soxcess provided hundreds of socks and other goods to shelters in New Jersey and a pediatric hospital.  Jeremy even partnered with LUSH and Target, and these retailers provided donated goods and volunteer service.

Jeremy’s SYF scholarship will go toward his tuition and the overall cost of attending Seton Hall.  He earned it by putting into practice all the things he was taught by others and all the amazing things he taught himself.

Our 2015 scholarship program is just around the corner.  Soon, we’ll be looking in every community that is home to a Simon property for our next class of scholarship recipients.  We know there are incredible college-bound high school students, like Jeremy, whose dreams will be more readily attainable with a “little extra” help, and SYF would be proud to play a role in their educational pursuits.  Learn more about Simon Youth Community Scholarships at syf.org.

September 3, 2014

Making More of the Future than a Hard Life Inherited

Contributed by J. Michael Durnil, Ph.D., President and CEO, Simon Youth Foundation

The calendar tells me it’s “back to school” time, but I am still thinking about an experience I had during this past spring’s graduation season. I have the privilege to represent SYF at Simon Youth Academy graduations, and my very favorite part of this experience is standing in the receiving line of well-wishers and shaking the hands of graduates as they cross the stage to receive their diplomas.

2014  Graduates from Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall
As part of my graduation remarks, I always make it a point to tell the students and assembled audiences that every member of the SYF team is humbled by the fact that we played some small part in helping change a student’s life.  This year, as a young man crossed the stage, he extended the duration of the hand shake just a little longer than most, looked me in the eye, and said, “Sir, SYF didn’t change my life. It saved my life.”

I could stop there, but his declaration is the beginning of my story.

An ongoing topic of conversation in the office, especially as we try to grow the awareness of the work of the Simon Youth Foundation, is how great it would be if editorial boards at major newspapers (or even smaller papers) could get as excited as we do about the stories of our students, teachers, partner schools, and Simon Mall leaders who are working together to create real change. Sounds simple. But the concept is surprisingly complex. It’s difficult to explain, and even more difficult for some to comprehend unless they have personally experienced the challenges our students, teachers and even community advocates face.

Our goal at SYF is to make sure we provide as many opportunities as we can for our Academies, partner school districts and communities in an effort to minimize the effects of disadvantages. In short, taking students from being “at-risk” to what we like to call “at-promise.”

The demographics and statistics about the students we have the great fortune to work with can be staggering. We are extraordinarily proud of our 90% graduation rate, especially when you couple it with the understanding that 35% of our students are the first ones in their family to receive a high school diploma. And to be clear, that 90% graduation rate isn’t some 10% ahead of the 2012 National Center for Education Statistics reported percentage of 80%. The SYF delta of change is a full 90%; none of the students who are served by our partner schools through the Simon Youth Academies were destined to graduate high school.

In SYF-ese, we want them to “Start here. Go anywhere.”

As we start back to school, gather our supplies, and hope to harness the excitement of the new year and opportunities ahead, let’s work together to ignite hope in our students – hope that their future isn’t just a hard life inherited; but through the empathy of our stakeholders, that their future is a new legacy for their family and community.

Here’s to a great school year.

I’m already looking forward to graduation day, when I will once again have the privilege of shaking hands with more than a thousand hard-working students.